The Broader Social Impact of Secure and Affordable Homes For Women
29 May 2017 at 2:06 pm
A long-term, affordable and secure home creates a new beginning for a woman who is facing homelessness, with every dollar invested in housing creating more than $11 of social value, writes Jeanette Large, CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives.
Fifty nine per cent of people approaching homelessness services are women. 50 per cent of them have a child with them.
Unfortunately, these figures are likely to underestimate the level of homelessness amongst single women and children in Australia because so much of it is hidden. Women (often with children) who are staying with friends or relatives, or in unsafe or inappropriate accommodation like a boarding house, are all considered homeless but are rarely seen.
Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) works only with women because everybody deserves a secure and appropriate home and single women and mothers are least likely to be able to afford one.
Taking into account lower incomes, fewer opportunities and higher caring responsibilities that limit time in the workforce, women face an inherent economic disadvantage in their access to secure and affordable housing. A single woman on the minimum wage can afford less than three out of every 100 private rental properties. A single mother on benefits might find two out of every 100 that she could afford, a single woman on the aged pension even less!
Many of the women we help have experienced family violence or are migrants fleeing conflict in their country of origin. Some are older women who have worked their whole lives but can’t afford market rents. Others find themselves living in a car or on a friend’s couch. Our very stretched crisis services and short-term housing services are critical in sheltering vulnerable women, but often there is no next step towards a stable future. WPI offers this next step.
Put simply, a long-term, affordable and secure home creates a new beginning for a woman who is facing homelessness. There is a lot of research that shows the costs of providing stable, affordable housing (to the individual, to the community and to government) are much lower than when we allow people to become homeless. This is often based on the very detrimental effects that unstable housing has on physical and mental health. However, there are a range of positive outcomes from secure housing that are not measures or captured – like increased social participation, better family relationships and improvements in education. These are significant factors in breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.
WPI recently released an independent evaluation of the social return on investment (SROI) of the secure, affordable homes we provide for vulnerable women and children. This evaluation quantifies and monetizes our social impact in a clear and consistent way. It hinges on what has changed and the degree of change experienced by our tenants and other stakeholders.
The evaluation showed that for every dollar invested in our housing, over $11 of social value is created. The outcomes were valued at $15.5 million for 2014/15 financial year, with input costs of $1.4 million.
WPI provides homes for more than 200 women and children around Melbourne. These results provide support for our belief that safe, affordable, long-term homes have changed their future.
Tenants obtained most of the social value due to improvements in emotional wellbeing, personal safety, physical health, employment, social inclusion, independence and positive lifestyle choices. Their children also experienced improvements in personal and social well-being, educational outcomes and family relationships.
Importantly, the evaluation found there was more than $2 million worth of social value experienced by the state and federal governments in the 12-month period due to avoided health, homelessness, corrections and welfare costs.
We measure our SROI because so much of our tenants’ experience is not captured by market prices or valued. It’s important to show the social and economic value created, not just simply report on satisfaction, tenancy rates, expenses and revenue. Demonstrating the broader social value is critical to us confidently advocating for more community housing for women.
I recently spoke to one of our tenants, Marie, who has experienced horrific family violence. After an adjustment period, her home life is now stable enough for her to study to become a classroom integration aid. Her son Josh has a disability, and by studying and helping him at school, she has developed a deeper understanding of what he goes through and their bond is stronger than ever.
She is using these skills to enrich the school experience for lots of other children. Where would this social impact be captured in traditional methods of measuring outcomes?
Our SROI evaluation helps us to understand the shape, quantity and value of the change experienced by our stakeholders. It gives our tenants a voice to talk about the lived experience of secure, affordable housing. The results facilitate our engagement with supporters and potential supporters and we will use them to advocate for further investment in the community housing sector.
About the author: Jeanette Large is CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives, a not-for-profit provider of affordable, long-term homes for women, and of Property Initiatives Real Estate, a social enterprise established to create a revenue stream for WPI.